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|Blending luxury with dependability and performance, the Mercedes-Benz 600 was simply the world's finest luxury car.|
Introduced to the motoring world in 1963, the 600 is undoubtedly one of DBAG's great post-war achievements. Here were luxury and performance inspired by that of the great 770 Grosser Mercedes. Even its parent, DBAG, called it the Grand Mercedes. Like its revered predecessor, the 600 was built for an exclusive clientele of royal and wealthy owners, and then only in limited numbers. In its 18-year lifespan, from August 1963 to June 1981, the longest for a single Mercedes-Benz model, only 2,677 cars were produced. Production of the 600 ran highest in 1965, when 345 Limousines and 63 Pullmans were built. The last 600 built, a short-wheelbase sedan, went straight into DBAG's museum collection.
The 600 was the most lavishly appointed production automobile ever manufactured by DBAG - and among the most expensive. To put the value of these cars in perspective, the 600 Pullman Limousine's 1963 price was DM63,500, roughly $18,000 at the time. The last such car sold cost DM165,500, around $82,000. The standard 600 Limousine (if the term standard can even be applied) went from DM56,500 in 1964 to DM144,100 by 1981. The very last cars produced, a series of 15 600 limousines and 5 600 Pullmans, had an average price in America of over $100,000. If one could still buy a new 600, the price would be considerably higher today. Throughout its history the 600 has been the voiture of choice for pontiffs and politicians. Heads of state, captains of industry and the like have all shared, at one time or another, ownership or use of these incomparable automobiles. Among prominent users have been King Hussein, Mao Tse-tung, Queen Elizabeth II, the late Shah of Iran, Marshal Tito, Prince Rainier and the president of Rumania. A number of European governments have used 600's as official cars. The most recognized user was Pope Paul VI, who commissioned a special Landaulet in 1966. After 20 years of use by the Vatican, the car was donated to the DBAG museum.
|The Landaulet was the 600's most exclusive production body style.|
All 600's, regardless of body style, were powered by a mechanically fuel-injected, overhead cam V-8 displacing 6,330 cc (386 ci). The 90-degree v-form engine, designated M100, had a compression ratio of 9.0:1, bore and stroke of 103 x 95 mm and a peak output of 250 DIN (300 SAE) hp at 4,000 rpm. Peak DIN torque was a massive 369 lb-ft at 2,800 rpm; the SAE measurement was 434 lb-ft at 3,000 rpm. This was the DBAG's first production V-8 engine; it was used exclusively in the 600 until 1968, when it first appeared in the 300SEL 6.3.
Both the long (153.5-in) and short (126-in) wheelbase chassis gave the 600's massive proportions. The short version's overall length was 18 ft, 2 in, and the Pullman ran to 20 ft, 6 in. With relatively light curb weights of 5,340-5,731 lb for the Limousine and 5,820-5,950 lb for the Pullman, the 6.3-liter powerplant and its accompanying 4-speed automatic transmission could propel the cars to speeds well over 120 mph. Rear axle ratio was 3.23:1. European versions accelerated from zero to 60 in anywhere from 9.7 to about 12 seconds (depending on the body type and passenger load) and covered the standing start quarter mile (in case one should be so crass as to care) in 17 seconds flat with a trap speed of 80 mph. Tests recorded top speeds of 129 mph for the Limousine and 124 for the Pullman, again for European versions. Considering their mass, shape and frontal area, that's quite an accomplishment.
Suspension was similar to the later 300SEL 6.3, using compressor-fed air units. At the rear was the normal (for DBAG) low-pivot swing axle. Brakes were all discs, with twin calipers at each front wheel. Fuel capacity was 29.6 gallons in all versions, and consumption averaged about 10 mpg. Tires were 9.00 x 15 radials on 6Y2 x 15 wheels. To help provide power for the many auxiliary systems, the engine drove two alternators, one on the left, the other on the right. A total of five vee belts drove the two alternators, the air-conditioning compressor, the hydraulic pump, the cooling fan and the air compressor.
DBAG director of passenger car development Rudolf Uhlenhaut once said that the cost of building the 600 was of secondary importance. Virtually every part used in the cars was designed and built especially for that model. According to Herr Uhlenhaut, the 600's design demanded "sufficient room for tall people; the best possible suspension; low body roll while cornering; a wide range of adjustability for all seats; well functioning ventilation, heating and air conditioning; silent operation of the whole car, and power assistance for all manual operations."
In terms of performance, the criteria were no less demanding. The 600 would require good roadholding, precise power-assisted steering, reliable brakes, tires suited to continued high-speed driving, adequate acceleration, strong body construction and interior safety measures.
The 600 was unlike any other car built. Its four-wheel independent and height-adjustable suspension provided an uncompromised smooth ride for passengers under virtually all road conditions. Settings for the hydraulic shock absorbers could be varied from soft to firm via a three-position lever on the steering column. Should road conditions demand extra ground clearance, the car could be raised two inches. A pneumatic air bag system kept the car level no matter what the load.
Bringing the 600 to a stop was a sophisticated dual-circuit hydraulic power disc brake system consisting of separate front and rear units operated by compressed air. The parking brake was automatically released when the gear lever was moved from Neutral. A compressed air horn warned off anyone who dared cross the mighty vessel's bows.
|Comforts Of Home
Coachwork was built at the DBAG Sindelfingen works. Each body was hand-crafted, much in the same philosophy as the 770 Grosser Mercedes and 500/540K models built by Sindelfingen in the 1930's. Interior dimensions were larger than those of any other contemporary limousine. Riders were cosseted by hand-sewn leather upholstery, luxurious wool carpeting and hand finished, grain-matched wood veneers for the dash, rear compartment and door trim. Early 600's had hydraulically-assisted door closing mechanisms, but this complicated feature was eventually dropped. Pullmans usually came with refrigerated bars.
The cars were equipped with a vast array of special convenience features such as central vacuum locking for doors and trunk. Hydraulics opened and closed the trunk lid, the power windows, the limousine divider window, the sunroof, the fuel filler door and the Landaulet's top. The 600's heating and ventilation system included a climate control which could be set individually for front and back compartments. The usual radio had a remote control unit in the rear allowing the passenger to set the stations and volume. An intercom was also installed, and the front and rear seats were hydraulically operated. Thirteen interior lights kept things well illuminated. To discreetly shield diffident occupants from the stares of the hoi-polloi, all 600's had rear and side curtains. One of the car's most noted innovations was its remote-adjustable exterior rear-view mirrors, common today but a first in 1963.
Options were limited only by practicality and the imagination and pocketbook of the buyer. Indeed, where the 600's were concerned, Daimler-Benz spared no expense. These were the finest cars that money could buy - or build.
As with almost every 600, the three cars here have special histories. The 1970 600 Landaulet was originally delivered to the Rumanian government and used by the president of that country until the early 1980's. It and another Landaulet were sold, and our feature car found its way to the United States, where it is now in an East Coast collection.
The dark blue 600 Limousine features a divider window (unusual in the short-wheelbase version), handcrafted wooden writing tables in the front seatbacks and a refrigerated bar in the center console. It was delivered new in 1977 to the Iranian embassy in Fans, where it was maintained for the Shah's use. Following his death, the car came to the United States and changed hands several times before being purchased by its present owner. The car has covered only 6,000 miles.
The third car is a 1969 short-wheelbase model with sunroof. It was sold new to a prominent California real estate developer, who took delivery at the factory. Tom Kreid, San Diego Section, purchased the car in 1981, and it remains in his collection.
The 600 is more than just a car. It's an experience - for driver, passenger or just us lowly serfs who stand slack-jawed on the curb, watching the car pass and trying to peer inside to see what sort of privileged being is riding in this glorious and imposing extravagance. This is not your basic low-profile car, but it successfully manages to be impressive without violating the guidelines of good taste.
As quiet, dignified and understated as the 600 was, it could really fly when the chauffeur heard the command, "Home, James, and don't spare the horses!" A few years ago I had my first 600 ride, in Manfred Pfeiffer's dashing red short-wheelbase version. Manfred, never known for conservative driving, wanted to impress his carload of passengers with his favorite car, so on the way to dinner we did a few loops of a cloverleaf interchange. If a crystal chandelier had hung in the back compartment, it would have been nearly horizontal as the big 600 repeatedly hunkered down and whooshed around the curves. The huge tires moaned, we all grabbed for handholds, and I was only sorry that I couldn't witness what must have been an impressive spectacle from outside the car. But being inside was even better!
|Reprinted from THE STAR, July/August 1987
Text and Photos by Dennis Adler